A Regency epitaph for a child

Stephen Martin
County Durham, UK

 

In some spot where common herbage grows
Perchance a violet rears its purple head:
Some careful gardener plucks it ere it blows
To spread and flourish in a nobler bed:
Such was thy fate dear child, thy opening such
Pre-eminence in early bloom was shown:
Too good for earth perhaps or lov’d too much.
Heaven saw, and early mark’d thee for its own.

 

This was masoned in delicate script to the rear of the headstone of Caleb and Elizabeth Cowle, grandparents of Mary Ann Cowle, who died in 1825 at the age of ten. The composition is original for the monument and is of a high educational standard. Mary Ann’s parents could well have been employed in the now demolished Stanwick Hall or on the surrounding estate of the Duke of Northumberland, with the opportunity for some education or educated help. Some of the words and the iambic pentameter echo Oberon’s monologue in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The churchyard’s beautiful setting is extraordinary, within the elevated circular Saxon boundary of St. John the Baptist from the 1200s in Stanwick, North Yorkshire. This has Viking Christian carvings from the previous church. It is doubtless in the middle of the earthworks of the royal capital site of Queen Cartimandua, the highly successful chief of Roman Britain’s largest tribe, the Brigantes.

Mary Ann’s short life around Stanwick was sandwiched between much preceding history and very little changing there since. Her lasting epitaph, however, might still for some bring comfort.

 

Photograph of epitaph carved into the back of a headstone.

Fig 1. Script on the Cowle family headstone. Stanwick, Richmond, North Yorkshire. © author, may be reproduced for academic and non-commercial purposes.

 


 

STEPHEN MARTIN is a retired British psychiatrist.

 

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